I’m a bit excited because I’m moving from a three-person share house where I was subletting, and I’m movin’-on-up to my very own place. There are lots of things that you’ll need to sort out if you are planning a move, so I thought I’d keep a list while I was doing it myself. There are things you need to do from a legal standpoint, but there are also things that just make the move easier.

The first thing to know is that looking for an apartment is going to take you some time. Normally, the window is around 30-45 days but in many cases (like mine) it can take much longer to actually find the place you want and get through the process. Once you’ve picked a place, if everything goes well, the process is normally about 10 days from offer to completion of contract, which gives everyone enough time to do what they need to. Sadly, you generally won’t be able to find apartments more than about a month out because they just don’t have that much notice, but you can always keep an eye out!

Finding a location for a new apartment in New York City

Working out where you want to live is very important. Each borough and neighborhood in New York City has a completely different feel and price so you’re going to want to look around and become familiar with areas before committing to a rental.

For a REALLY brief introduction to the boroughs of New York (in order of what I think is most popular to least popular for expats): Manhattan is the island in the middle and the one you’ve probably heard most about. It’s hectic, it’s tall, and it holds most of the landmarks you think of when you think about NYC. Rent is the most expensive, and the size of your apartment is going to be much smaller. Next, there’s Brooklyn, just over to the East. Brooklyn is now known for its slightly more chilled out vibe, its culture, and its sprawling size. Apartments are more reasonable the further you get out but still expensive close to Manhattan. Queens, right above Brooklyn, is the most ethnically diverse county in all of the US, there’s always a lot going on, and it’s furiously becoming more popular (read: gentrified). Due to this, luxury apartments are popping up all over the place and it’s becoming very popular and prices are climbing. Above Queens and Manhattan is The Bronx, which has long been thought of as the slightly more rough-and-tumble of the boroughs but is slowly shedding that reputation. I don’t know many people who move from overseas to the Bronx. Finally, right down South, past the Statue of Liberty, you float right into Staten Island. It’s greener and sprawling but with much less going on. Again, I don’t know too much about Staten Island because I just don’t know many people who move there.

Inside of each of the boroughs are neighborhoods. You may have heard of some of the popular ones like Midtown, NoLiTa (NOrth of Little ITAly), Williamsburg, and FiDi (FInancial District). Each neighborhood has its own look, feel, and budget again, but transitioning between them is as easy as crossing one street. You’ll become selective about which neighborhoods you like (Lower East Side is grungy, hip, and fun) and others that you don’t venture to unless you have to (Midtown is full of tourists and you’re a local now). Prices for apartments vary dramatically depending on where you choose, so be aware of what neighborhood is being advertised when you’re looking and ask lots of questions. https://www.airbnb.com/locations/new-york/neighborhoodsAirBnB has a nice summary of each neighborhood for you!

You’re going to want to pick two or three neighborhoods that you like and that you’d be happy to live in. This will give you a good scope to start searching.

You can start looking at websites like:

  • Craigslist (e.g. New York Sublets) – Have your whits about you, this is going to be a wild ride;
  • Roomi – A really good new startup that does proper background checks
  • SpareRoom
  • StreetEasy – If you’re looking for a whole apartment
  • Zillow – Similar to StreetEasy
  • Listings Project – Great for creatives looking to sublet
  • Nooklyn – “A wonderful service for those new to the city” – Andrea K;

Do you need a broker when looking for an apartment in NYC?

Finding an apartment is a pain in the arse ass. Take it from me, someone who spent a LONG time trying to find something I liked and for a price I wanted to pay. You’re going to see dirty washing, tiny apartments, dirty walls, exposed wires, and more when you start to really delve in. While this is an adventure at the beginning, after a few different examples you’re going to start to become quite burnt out. So, enter the “broker”.

Just like everything else, you’re going to hear mixed reviews of brokers and the whole process. Brokers can be expensive, charging normally around 15% of yearly rent or even more. So yes, this is expensive. Yes, you can do all of this on your own without any help. Yes, if you have the time and the willpower, I recommend doing it alone, but for me, I couldn’t do it any longer.

You will find some “no fee” apartments which means that there will be no fee attached to you (and instead the seller will be responsible for the fees) but keep an eye out for “CYOF (collect your own fee)” apartments which will include a fee right at the end.

That being said though if you find a good broker you can save yourself some time and hassle.

Definitions of terms you might hear when looking for an apartment

  • Doorman building” = Fancier (normally elevator) building with a doorman who lets people in (as opposed to an “attended lobby” for accepting packages or “full service” for both
  • Walk-up” = A building with no elevator, so there are stairs that you… walk-up
  • Pre-war” = A building built pre WWII which means normally thicker walls, and higher rents
  • Townhouse” = A rare miracle that might include something that resembles a whole house with a yard
  • Brownstone” = A (normally lovely) old building made of pre-20th century brown sandstone
  • Railroad” = An apartment that goes entry -> living -> bedroom -> bedroom (so you have to walk through one bed to get to the other – some will have a separate entrance to the second bedroom)
  • Condo” = Abuilding owned by an individual (so you’re renting one apartment, owned by one person)
  • Studio” = A one room (not a separate bedroom, as that would be “1 bedroom” + bathroom area for one maybe two people (generally more popular therefore more expensive)
  • Loft” = A big open industrial-esque space
  • Fire escape” = The metal contraptions attached to the front/back of a building (because they’re old and have no way internally out in-case of fire)
  • Super” = The person that comes in and fixes things that break in the apartment for you
  • Landlord” = The person you pay and who may own the apartment
  • Renovated” = An apartment that actually has semi-new materials in the kitchen and/or bathroom
  • AND MOST IMPORTANTLY
  • Flex” or “Converted” apartments or bedrooms = One or more of these bedrooms aren’t “real”. They’ll be tiny half-rooms without windows and you probably won’t enjoy actually living in them. Ever. Basically you take the living room and divide it into two. You don’t want these unless you really don’t have a budget for a proper area.

For a funnier version of these, check out this Thrillist article I got a good laugh out of:

“Sun-splashed, sun-washed, and sun-soaked”: You’ll open the curtai— SWEET FIERY HELL! THE REFLECTION OFF THAT HIGH RISE! IT’S MAGNIFYING THE RAYS! MY RETINAS! AAAAAAAAAGHHHHHH!

I almost forgot:

  • Cozy” = Small
  • Unique” = Gross
  • Rustique” = Broken

Things to ask when looking through apartments

  • “What is included in the rent?” – You should normally hear back “Heat and hot water are included. Gas, electric and cable are up to you”. This means that heating of the apartment and the hot water is included in rent (heat is a legal requirement in NYC). You will then have to pay for your own gas (oven/stove), electricity, and cable (TV and internet).
  • “What’s the nearest train/transport line?” – This one you should do your own research on (StreetEasy provides a great list of the closest train stations to any address if you search for an address)
  • “What happens with maintenance?” – Is there a live-in super? What’s the normal turnaround?
  • “How long were the previous tenants in for and why did they leave?” – This one will probably be answered by “I don’t know” but again, StreetEasy comes to the rescue. If you look for your apartment, you should find the previous listings. If you’re seeing a lot of 3/6 month listings.. You will want to ask what is going on and probably steer clear
  • “What are the terms?” – How long can you rent it for? How much does rent change? What are the application fees? All-in, what are you looking at?
  • “What are the requirements?” – Is it the normal 40x rent (check out my next article) or are there particular things they’re looking for/not looking for
  • “Have there been any instances of bed bugs or other pests?” – This is important. You want to hear that it’s been dealt with properly before moving in.
  • “Have there been any applications already? What’s the process” – Find out what you’d need to do to get the ball rolling.

Most of all though, this person is integral to the process for you being accepted so be kind and courteous at every stage.

You also MUST follow-up and quickly. Apartments in New York City move quickly and if you aren’t at the top of the list you will simply miss out. Send a nice email thanking them for showing you and ask about next processes. 

How to make an offer on an apartment in New York

The first thing you need to know about renting an apartment in New York City is that the general rule is:

You need to prove a base income (before bonuses and extras*) of more than 40x the monthly rent.

* Note: Some places you apply for may allow for bonuses and extras to be included in your rent. If this is the case, you will need to get a letter from employer that confirms it’s a guaranteed bonus, to go with the rest.

So what does this 40x mean? It means that if the rent of the apartment is $4,000 per month, you will need to show a base income of $160,000 per year. Yep. It’s an outrageous amount of money, I know, especially considering the cost of apartments here!

Costs to move in if you earn 40x rent

If you do qualify for this, you will generally pay (using the above example again) : first month’s rent ($4,000), a month’s security ($4,000) and your broker’s fee. That will the “cost of moving in.

What to do if you don’t earn 40x rent

If you don’t earn the appropriate amount of rent, you do still have a few options (take it from me, it’s possible).

  1. The first option is the most straight-forward and is quite common, however for those of us who have moved to the U.S. from overseas, it’s going to quite difficult: A guarantor. A guarantor is someone who signs a document basically saying that they agree to cover the rental agreement if you cannot make the payments. Sounds simple, but here’s the catch: The guarantor must prove (in the same way, with the same forms, that you will below) that they earn 80x the monthly rent of the apartment (to use the example above, they need to be pulling in $320,000 per year! In general, too, a guarantor has to live and earn that income in the U.S for it to be considered (some will only take those who are close in NY/NJ/CT).
  2. The second option is a bit more difficult but can also be worked through. You basically have to show in a more roundabout way that you can afford to make those payments. You can do this in a number of ways, but in general, it will require significant savings covering a portion of the lease agreement. Most buildings will then require a deposit up-front to cover more rent than would someone who qualifies against the 40x requirement. One common occurrence is that you will have to pay (again, using the previous example): First month ($4,000), last month ($4,000), and two months’ security ($8,000) in addition to the potential broker’s fee. Safe to say, this option is a possibility for some, but that $16,000+ outlay for many will simply be too much.

Documents required for a lease

If you can complete those requirements, you are then going to need to provide:

  1. Photo ID (preferably a passport or local state license)
  2. A letter from your employer (on letterhead, and signed) confirming your income (salary), position, and length of employment, and to save yourself some trouble, ensure that it’s dated and less than 30 days old.
  3. Three recent pay stubs (these will need to include your employer’s legal name, your legal name, and ideally match the address you’ve provided them)
  4. Tax returns for the past two years (or as many as possible – in my case, I only had one)
  5. Bank statements (all relevant ones) for the past two months (they want to see that you have a consistent balance and enough cash flow)
  6. A paragraph or two detailing yourself never hurts. This just sums up who you are, what you do, and goes towards the idea that you’re a trustworthy and reliable kind of person who deserves to get this apartment. Detail a snapshot of your last year or two and put yourself in their shoes.
  7. Finally, if possible, a letter of reference from your current landlord.

In addition to all of these, if you run your own business or if you have some extenuating circumstances, you may need to provide a number of other tax-related documents or in many cases a letter from your CPA Accountant detailing you, your business name, that you’re in good standing, and that you’re all above board.

To put in a formal application there will generally be some sort of non-refundable cost. This is normally between $50 and $200 and is the cost involved with processing a credit and background check. You won’t get this back, no matter what happens. In many others, there will also be a deposit of a month (or similar amount) upfront to ensure that you’re not wasting anyone’s time and are serious about the place. If you are not accepted, this comes right back to you, but if you back out of the place after being accepted, you won’t get this back. The seller will generally agree to take the apartment off the market and not accept other applications if they have taken this money.

There is also a chance, like in my case, that the landlord may want to sit down with you and have a chat. My tip is to always be as open and honest. They want to get a feel for who you are, so just treat it like a slightly less formal business interview.

What you need to know about contractual leases

Woo! You’ve been accepted, congratulations. Now comes the time to put your legalese hat on. Don’t be pushed around, and know your rights.

The term you’ll hear thrown around a lot is: “Blumberg Form”. All this refers to is the standard form version of a rental agreement. You’re realistically not going to be able to argue in or out of any of these terms so it’s probably not worth your time. You should always know what you’re signing so you can read them in advance, here!

In many cases, you will also receive an additional document(s) which will detail further terms. YOU WANT TO READ THESE! The first rental agreement is standard, but anything that goes with it is a separate contract and like anything in New York, it’s easy to opt-in to things you might not realize with one wave of your pen.

Things to look out for when you’re reading through an apartment lease

  • Can you have a dishwasher/washing machine in the apartment?
  • Can you have pets?
  • When is rent due (and what happens if you don’t pay)?
  • How do you pay rent?
  • Can you have additional people in the apartment?
  • Can you sublet? (P.S. did you know that without good reason, the landlord can’t stop you from subletting?)
  • Will the apartment be repaired/painted before you move in? (they don’t legally have to, but most will if you want)
  • Will the apartment be cleaned properly before you move in?
  • Do you require renters insurance (YOU REALLY SHOULD – more on that later)?
  • When can you move in?
  • When do you have to move out?
  • What do you have to do when you move out?
  • .. and lots more.. Do a bit of a Google if you have any questions or comment below!

This is all negotiable. So if you really want something in particular, be kind (they could still just take the place away from you) but don’t back down if you think something isn’t right.

Once it’s in writing, it’s there for the whole lease. Know your rights.

What’s the deal with the Lead Paint Disclosure / Notice / Release?

You will also be given a lead paint release. This is normal, don’t worry. You don’t necessarily have lead paint in the apartment but it’s good to read everything in the release to know what the rules are in NYC.

Ok. You’re done!

If you can sign all this and agree to dates, you’ve got yourself an apartment! Now the fun begins…

All of the following relies heavily on one thing: Good communication with your new owner/landlord. Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions, the more you ask and ensure everything is moving smoothly, the better tenant you appear to be (in most cases, obviously)!

What’s the deal with finding a mover when moving apartment?

Here’s another one just like brokers. Sometimes they’re great, sometimes they’re really not, but sometimes they’re really necessary. You want to get your plans in early because the closer you get to the date, the more expensive it gets (and from what I found, they also book out)!

For my move, I did use a mover for one of the stages because I had bought some furniture from someone else and they required professional movers in their building (it’s a good thing to check for). If the building does require it, you will want to check with the mover that you get that they can provide a Certificate of Insurance (COI) for the move. This will normally include general liability and also property liability to cover anything that is damaged or broken.

Set your date, know when you will have access to the building (communication above), and know what will need to be moved (does it need to be disassembled, is it fragile, do you have boxes, does it need special packing).

One service that I was referred to by my broker was Unpakt. This is a company that will let you fill in everything you need about your move and shows you a list of guaranteed prices. Moving isn’t cheap in NYC but I got a better deal through these guys than I could find anywhere else! Find out more here: Unpakt (referral for me and $20 for you). I ended up with Fidelity Moving, who were great!

How to schedule Mail Forwarding with USPS

I realize that this one is jumping the gun a little bit but when you notify USPS to redirect your mail, you can schedule a date in the future for that to start, and they send you a big range of coupons to save money with other things involved with your move.

It can all be done online at https://www.usps.com/manage/forward.htm – it’s free to forward your mail!

Renters insurance is tremendously important

Here’s the really important take-home for this part.

Renters insurance is VERY important and not just for the reasons you think. Renters insurance doesn’t only cover your apartment and contents in case something goes wrong (fire, flood etc.) but it also covers your “personal liability”. This means if you’re walking down the street and you kick up a rock and it hits someone in the face, you’re covered (up to an amount, and subject to all their terms of course). This is outside of your rental location, and as a general (important) rule does NOT COVER DRIVING AT ALL.

Renters insurance, get it, right now if you don’t have any. If you do accidentally hurt someone in New York or anywhere really in the US, you’re going to be in a lot of hot water without it (and you’re not going to be able to afford it).

I signed up for Lemonade, which looks something like this. It’s costing me $9 a month for a $250 excess and coverage although:

Hovercraft Liability
Well this is a damn shame…

Next time, we’re going to be looking at where to start shopping and more legal notifications when you do actually move!

Who to notify when you move

Now this list is by no means exhaustive but the process is exhausting. There are SO many people you need to notify of your move that you probably won’t even realize but I’ve tried to list all the ones I remembered to date and will keep it up to date as I remember more. These are ranked in terms of importance and priority:

  1. The US Government
    1. If you’re here and not a citizen, you have to notify the US Government (USCIS) when you move (you have 10 days). All the instructions here.
  2. The IRS
    1. Yep, you should probably tell the tax man where you’re going.
  3. Your State
    1. You should notify your state (for the same tax reasons as above) that you’re moving, here’s the guide for NY.
  4. The DMV
    1. Your license has your address on it, so you’re going to need to update that one (here’s the NY DMV’s guide). In order to get a new license, you do actually need to go in (annoying, I know).
  5. Your bank(s)
    1. They’re the one with all your money and they, for legal reasons, need to know where you are. Your online banking interface should have an option for it but you may have to pop in with your lease at some point.
  6. Your employer
    1. You might get paychecks sent to you but even if you don’t, HR is going to want to know where you’re at.
  7. Insurance
    1. If you have an insurance of any kind (which you absolutely should if you are renting or living in the US), be sure to notify them so that you don’t lose coverage. If you make a claim and your address is wrong, you don’t want to have to get into a fight about it.
  8. USPS
    1. From my previous article, redirecting your mail is easy so you don’t miss anything but you also get loads of vouchers for your move (including 20% off at Bed, Bath, and Beyond)!
  9. Gas & Electric
    1. If you’re currently renting, be sure to move this service to your new place to ensure that you don’t lose coverage.
  10. Internet
    1. Same as above, this one should be pretty obvious.
  11. Phone
    1. One more time.
  12. Delivery Apps
    1. So this one is number 12, but realistically we all know it’s #1. Don’t make the mistake of having all your food and packages going to the wrong address. Grab a drink of your choice, sit down and go through all the apps on your phone to make sure that you’re being billed to the correct location. Important ones are Seamless, Uber Eats, Amazon, and Apple itself.

Where to find shopping and furniture when you first move in

For those of you who are new to the US, you’re going to need to find all the stores that you go to for your regular day-to-day goods.

  1. IKEA is here, so you’ve got that if you feel like winding through the IKEA maze and picking up everything you can see.
  2. Bed, Bath & Beyond has all your sheets, bathroom goods, and kitchenware (just don’t get stuck in there, it’s bigger than you think).
  3. Amazon of course has everything (including their “Amazon Basics” branded stuff which is actually pretty good).
  4. West Elm, Crate & Barrel, CB2 and Pier 1 Imports are all lovely if you’re looking for something slightly fancier
  5. Article.com was a great online service I used for some nicer pieces on my place

Most importantly, be sure to install the app “Honey” (it’s free) in your browser before you start online shopping. This finds any online coupons or kickbacks that might be available to you when you go shopping online! It automatically tests out all the possible combinations and tries to save you as much money as it can. On Amazon, it will also tell you if it’s found a better deal on Amazon. My referral code is this one: https://www.joinhoney.com/ref/upg1as.

Apartments are generally quite tight for space so be wary of what you buy and asking not only whether it will fit into the apartment, but if you will be able to get it up the stairs, past the angry neighbor, and into your door. I learned quickly that doors aren’t nearly as big as you originally thought.

Also for those of you using Amazon, did you know about Amazon Smile which will donate a % of all of your purchases to charity without you having to do anything about it? Just go to https://smile.amazon.com/ and select which charity you’d like. If you’d like to do me a favor, the charity I am involved directly with is “Variety, the Children’s Charity of New York”. We do great work helping kids all over NY State and we’d love your support!

Give your new place a move-in clean when you arrive to your new apartment

There is honestly nothing better than walking into your new apartment which has already been cleaned and is ready to go with all your shiny new stuff filling the cupboards. I’ve written about her before because I love her but my cleaner, Mirabel, is the best cleaner in NYC and she can take care of a GREAT move-in clean to get everything spotless and ready for you (I didn’t realize just how dirty my place was until she stopped by).